Friday, March 28, 2014

Sex, Slander, Jews and Christians

Did you know that
In his first sermon against the Jews, delivered in Antioch in the autumn of 386 ce, John Chrysostom told a story of an abduction in which a "defiling and unfeeling man" forced a Christian woman, "elegant and free, well-behaved and faithful," to enter a synagogue. The woman resisted her attacker. She pleaded with Chrysostom to help her. Heroically, the newly ordained priest came to her rescue: "I was fired with jealousy," Chrysostom said, "and burning with anger, I rose up, I refused to let her be dragged into that transgression, I snatched her from the hands of her abductor! I asked him if he was a Christian, and he said he was. . . . I told him he was no better than an ass if he, who said that he worshiped Christ, would drag someone off to the dens of the Jews who had crucified him." This licentious abductor claimed to be a Christian, but, in Chrysostom's eyes, he was tainted with the stain of Jewishness. The abductor believed that an oath sworn in the synagogue was more powerful than one sworn in the church. It was precisely this sort of dangerous religious hybrid—this impure "half Christian"—that Chrysostom railed against in his sermons Adversus Iudaeos. The sexualized depiction of the heretical Christian-Jew as a male predator who preyed upon pure Christian women was not lost on Chrysostom's audience.

That's recorded in a new publication from Bryn Mawr Classical Review :-

Susanna Drake, Slandering the Jew: Sexuality and Difference in Early Christian Texts. Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion

It is a book that

...explores the sexual slander of Jews in Christian texts...[and] reveal[s] how Church fathers used accusations of fleshliness, bestiality, and licentiousness as strategies to differentiate the "spiritual" Christian from the "carnal" Jew.
It examines

...the sexualized representation of Jews...[t]he construction of the Jew as a subject of perverse and excessive sexual desire...the carnal, literal-minded Jewish reader served as a convenient foil for the spiritual Christian exegete. Moreover, as Christian leaders embraced practices of asceticism and sexual renunciation, the carnal, hypersexualized Jew served as a warning against indulging the appetites of the flesh...And as the interests of Christian leaders began to dovetail with the interests of the empire, the figure of the carnal Jew served to dehumanize Jews and justify violent acts against them.

From a review by Chris L. de Wet, University of South Africa:-

The first chapter addresses the carnalization of Israel and Jewish identity in the works of Paul, Barnabas, and Justin. The most important and convincing point in this chapter is that 'the incipient trope whereby Jews were represented as sexually deviant developed, at first, without reference to Paul' (p. 28). Drake, then, argues that sexualized alterization of Jewish identity began with Justin and Barnabas, and then briefly traces its development in Diognetus, Melito, and Ignatius...

...Drake meticulously shows how Origen mediated his carnal invective by the differentiation of scriptural hermeneutics - by imposing a Pauline flesh/spirit dichotomy, Origen equates the literalness of Jewish interpretation with their carnality, whilst Christian allegorical readings are symptomatic of purity and spiritual maturity. Origen effectively rewrites Paul...Drake[s] how Christian literature not only sexualized the narrative of Susanna, but also how it functioned in attributing gendered categories of socio-religious identity...Christians as in the feminine sense 'in terms of chastity, vulnerability, and victimization' (p.66), while Jewish (masculine) power is 'violent and invasive' (p. 73)...Drake argues that Chrysostom's sexualized anti-Jewish invective 'functioned as a discursive strategy to "fix" the identity of the Other' (p. 96)....'Early Christian leaders' recourse to sexual and gendered invective in their production of Jewish-Christian difference marked an insidious "process of subjectification" - one that helped to create the conditions for programs of dehumanization and violence' (p. 103)...


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